A Review by MICHAEL RADFORD! “When I am weak, I am strong”. Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at Tate Modern, comprised of 14 rooms, bringing together a history of his work, yet not a retrospective. The show depicts the present world of the past, in the present. Exploring WT practice in a much broader sense, rather than just his photography as we all know. Including mediums and artworks in sound, video and the mass-produced printed page.
“When I am weak, I am strong”. Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at Tate Modern, comprised of 14 rooms, bringing together a history of his work, yet not a retrospective. The show depicts the present world of the past, in the present. Exploring WT practice in a much broader sense, rather than just his photography as we all know. Including mediums and artworks in sound, video and the mass-produced printed page.
A show in the traditional sense, with a thematic dialogue, yet sometimes he works against the institutionalised ideology of an exhibition. Whether rejecting the conformed architecture of the gallery space, by hanging artworks in corners, something which is typically avoided. Or creating an exhibition within the exhibition space, where we see duplicates of prints at different scales. As well as branching out from the white cube – in March the show moves into the Tanks where WT will be making music with both long-term friends and new collaborators.
Building community through music is something WT has always been interested in. He moved from his native Remscheid to Hamburg, the place to be in West Germany, before the fall of the wall. Where raves and club culture were born. He photographed it and his work was often published in the arthouse magazines of the early 90’s. A room is dedicated to these mass-produced artworks, which includes the magazine ARENA Homme+ featuring images of his alter ego, Fragile. Because of this it took sometime for institutions to really take him seriously, MOMA were one of the last to start collecting him because he was associated with fashion, music, and the printed magazine page.
WT considers all his images, in all forms of distribution, works of art. Magazines removes the hierarchy for the gallery. Anywhere in the world someone can pick up a magazine for a fiver and have an real WT piece. “Whether it’s a magazine page I designed in 92 or a magazine page I designed in 2017, I still consider them, and always did consider them works of art”.
The show celebrates and critiques the world and contemporary culture. Forming both a dialogue and paradox between the two. WT is interested in the state of things – how does the world look right now? What is the effect of technology?
It could be said that cars have empowered society, enabling us to travel a few miles in a matter of minutes. Yet, they have had a huge environmental impact on the world. Headlight (f) 2012 pictures a detail of a cars headlight, almost evil looking, like some kind of predator hiding in the visual landscape of society. His photographs empowers the banal, he makes us stop and think, and look past the printed image. Questioning the venerability of the human race.
Fragility is a subject which is seen throughout the exhibition. Collum 2011 pictures a mans neckline, although a part of the human body we often see, through his lens, it becomes deeply intimate. It’s very raw, you’re aware of the workings of the body. It highlights how fragile humanity is and how we are in the world. Even the way the artwork is hung – using nails and bulldog clips, exposing the paper to the gallery environment. This empowers the sense of delicacy – the hang is almost important as the work itself.
Another repetition in the show is the beauty of the accident, or faults. Like the images he made by running photographic paper through machines with dirty chemicals. Or the abstract works, including greifbar 24 where he experimented with the chemicals on photographic paper to make pictures, but not in the traditional sense by using a lens. WT is constantly pushing the boundaries of photography in his work, as well as the constitution of the institution.
Throughout the exhibition there are lots of repetitions. Although, like in the everyday, it is not always evidential at the first instance. WT uses his lens to help us acknowledge these beauties and in-turn, builds community through the gallery space.
It could be said that, WT wants us to see society as this paradox. The fragility of life is hindered through technology, yet we continue to try and push technological boundaries, when in-fact we are pushing the boundaries of humanity. Because indeed, “when I am weak, I am strong”.
Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is currently on show at the Tate Modern until June 11th.